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  • What word processor or other programs can I use for Arabic in Classic / OS 9?

    In OS X, the abillity of programs to handle Arabic depends on how well they support the Unicode system that Arabic is part of. For a report of such OS X programs, see here. In OS 9 / Classic, the situation was different, and the same programs will not necessarily support Arabic in OS 9 as in OS X. The following thus all relates to OS 9 / Classic only.


    Most US and European software manufactureres, unfortunately couldn't care less about non-European scripts, so they happily write programs that break with them (e.g. programs that assume without checking that the text runs from left to right, and break down when it doesn't). So, in fact many programs will work badly or not at all with non-European scripts. This is in particular the case with word processors. Here is a run-down of some programs and the Arabic / non-European scripts:

    Word processing

    These work:

  • NisusWriter is currently the best, sold at about $90-100. Nisus is in general very good at text handling, it has perhaps the most extensive find/replace functions of any Mac word processor. There is no problem, e.g. with automatically finding any word where the second character is "d" and the fourth is either "f" or "t" and putting this word, the preceding one and the rest of the sentence into Times 14 pt, adding another word in Helvetica 12 afterwards. Or much more complicated demands. It also allows extensive "macros", automations of more or less anything you can do manually; these are however perhaps not for the absolute beginner. In this field, Nisus runs rings around e.g. Microsoft Word. It is, however, slightly less flexible in layout work than Word ; while it has both paragraph and character stylesheets, these aren't hierarchic and thus dynamic like Word's; Nisus also lacks e.g. outlining, sections and linking of documents as Word has, but compensates with finding / indexing across mulitiple documents as well as dynamic cross-references. On the whole, Nisus 5 or 6 is more powerful than Word 5, and many prefer it to Word 98 or higher for word processing.

    Its handling of Arabic is excellent. In general, you can do anything in Arabic or in mixed Arabic/English (or with any other script) that you can do in English alone. It has a script direction icon which causes the ruler to become mirror-imaged to right-left when you click on it; on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. Finding / replacing complicated demands where one part of what you look for is in Arabic and another in English isn't always as easy as in English alone; but you mostly can do it. There are special options that only appear if you have Arabic installed, such as e.g. optionally finding alif-madda and alif-hamza when you are asking for alif alone. If you select the whole document and change the font to "Geneva"; only the English parts will change, the Arabic will remain in the Arabic font (unlike other programs, where this will change everything to Geneva, making the Arabic unreadable). A very useful tool for people who lay out Arabic poetry is a "stretch tab" that inserts a keshida that lengthens a verse up to the tab stop, so you get properly aligned hemistiches.

    The older versions were copy protected with a "language key" you attached your Mac for non-European scripts, but this was removed with version 5 (and is no longer sold, although the earlier version 4.1.6 is still available as free download. This free version will thus not work with non-European scripts. There may still be one restriction: If you have a Hebrew system running under Hebrew primary script, or a version of Nisus sold in Israel, you may still need the dongle as the the Israeli distributor refused to sell it otherwise. If you do need Hebrew, make sure that the English script is the primary start-up script. This only concerns Hebrew, no other language). Nisus may still also sell Apple's language kits for the various scripts, which Apple itself has discontinued, which you will need for systems older than OS 9.

    There is one bug that is serious for people interacting with Windows users: If you import formatted Arabic text from another program (MacWrite, Word, WordPerfect), all "t"'s will disappear and be replaced with spaces. This isn't really Nisus's fault - they use a standard Mac import/export module (called XTND) that many programs share, and which is not Arabic-aware - but it is crippling. However, importing unformatted text-only files will not cause this to happen. If you have a MacWrite or Word text which you must have with formats intact into Nisus, you have to first import it into the earlier version of Nisus, 3.48 (which does not have this bug for Word and MacWrite files), and then save it in Nisus format and open it in NisusWriter 4 or 5.

    A drawback with Nisus (more noticeable earlier, when lean programs still existed) is that it requires a bit of memory to work well. While you can get by with giving it the standard 3-4 MB memory, do not expect it to handle anything of any size with that. For a normal workload, it is better to be able to allot 12-20 MB to the Nisus application. As for older machines, Nisus will barely open on older 68030 machines, while it works fine on 68040's and any version of old or modern PowerMacs.


    Nisus is today probably the primary option for non-European word processing on the Mac. However, partly for historical reasons, we will include some detail on programs that did exist at earlier times; some are still sold, others not, those that you may get hold of may or may not work under modern versions of the Mac system.

  • A major player in the market was earlier the French program Wintext, which was made for Arabic, but would also handle other non-European scripts. WinText is a less sophisticated program than Nisus, but has some features of its own, including a spread-sheet-like calculation facility. Its main problem is that it was extremely slow on then-current 68K machines and in particular in documents of more than five-six pages. Touching the ruler might lead to at least half a minute's wait for a screen redraw. At least one version refused to display more than 30-odd pages. Version 2.6 - the first one with footnotes - had a bug that sometimes did not print the odd footnote; no doubt a correctable bug but annoying.

    For those machines that could and can use it, handling of non-European text is otherwise good; you can mark the various passages as belonging to separate languages; and the relevant spelling checker dictionaries and hyphenation rules are applied each to its own languague. (Nisus now has the same feature, as do I believe Word, but WinText was early at this). Version 2.6 crashed under some current system configurations.

    WinText made it to version 2.7.5, which in 2001 is still on sale and is compatible with OS 9 (or mostly so, it crashes the Mac every time I quit it, but that may be me). This version adds one very useful addition: it has an Arabic spelling checker, the only one I have ever seen on a Mac. Wintext used to be copy protected with a key disk. Version 2.7.5 comes on a CD, but still includes an key disk (an 800K disk), which according to the documentation is required for installation. As modern Macs have no option to read 800K diskettes (all third-party floppy disk drives read High-Density 1.4M disks only), that would present a problem. Happily, the producer has recognized this, and the program actually installs without need of the key disk. Version 2.7.5 supports XTND exports, so you can export new and old WinText documents directly to e.g. Nisus, using Nisus's XTND filter. This may be useful for those people who have migrated from WinText to Nisus and have some 'orphaned' WinText files they have lost access to. (PageMaker ME, made by the same company, also reads WinText files). However, time seems to have passed WinText by, and while the producer Winsoft still sells it (upgrades for $50), they do not seem to market it very actively any longer.

  • A third option was WorldWrite, which was on sale a couple of years, but has now disappeared from the market. It was based on the earlier AllScript / RavK'tav program (see below) with elements from the companion DTP program AllPage. While it was supposed to be small and lean and specifically designed for non-European scripts, it was in fact in practice terribly slow for the machines at the time it was developed, and suffered from some design flaws. It may have been an alternative if improved, but is no longer an option.
    These were notes I made at the time:
    *It is not copy protected. It supports XTND, so it can exhange documents with many other programs, thus Nisus.
    * I did not test it on a PowerMac (it is PowerPC native), but it was unacceptably slow on a 030. I was also not able to open a 50K Arabic file on the '030.
    * If you had a standard 9"-screen (like a Mac Classic, Plus or SE/30), you could not access the script direction icon. It was outside the window, nor can you expand the window to get at it. Thus, the program cannot be used on such computers.
    * We have also discovered some problems with importing Word footnotes, but must test more to find out who is culpable.
    * It requires system 7.1 or higher, will not work with 7.0.1.

  • RavK'tav was an earlier program that was sold in the West as AllScript and in the Arab world as Noussous, it was all the same program, only with different languages in the menus. With the launching of the successor, these programs probobly are not available any longer, and are in any case unlikely to work well or at all under System 7 or later.


  • Many free or shareware text editors (muEdit, TexEdit, Style etc.[Click on name to download]) work very well with Arabic (notice that some versions of TexEdit more recent than the one on this server does not work with Arabic, although the most recent one now does). The most powerful of these is Word Solution (freeware). It does most things a word processor should (including documents greater than 32K, unlike some of the others - TexEdit Plus also allows this), but lacks footnotes. I have noticed some bugs, in particular with pasting text into it and changing the font to Arabic - this doesn't work - but seems to work quite well with Arabic typed directly in the program. Recommended. -- Notice that with version 9.1 of the Mac OS, you get a version of SimpleText, WorldText, which can read not only Arabic, but Unicode characters natively; the first program on the Mac to do so. Check in the CD Extras folder.

    These don't (really) work

    (most of these are outdated programs, but to my knowledge there are no newer versions of them that work better with Arabic)
  • Word Perfect 3.0a and up supports WorldScript II (Japanese and Chinese), but can't handle right - left scripts like Arabic and Hebrew (WorldScript I).

  • MacWrite, again, has a Japanese version, but not one that works with Arabic.

  • ClarisWorks 4, the earlier incarnation of AppleWorks, was hailed to be "WorldScript capable". Again, this is wrong: it is only supports Japanese, not even Korean, and no right-left scripts. However, there was announced a separate Arabic version of ClarisWorks 2.0 at $195, which I have not seen.

  • No standard DTP program that I know of. FrameMaker does Chinese/Japanese, but not Arabic. Normal PageMaker doesn't even let you start. (But see below for special Arabic DTP programs)

    The Trouble with Microsoft Word.

    Most of us use MS Word for our daily text production. Word doesn't really accept Arabic, and MicroSoft have stated that they are not going to support WorldScript on the Mac even in the future, because it is more important for them to maintain compatibility with Word for Windows than with other Mac programs.

    In what many still consider to be the best version of Word for Mac, version 5, you can type a few words in Arabic, however, with some limitations: One is that justification doesn't work. If there is an Arabic word on the line, you will see a "gap" in the justification. This is because Word calculates the width of the Arabic letter on the basis of its ASCII value, which is the same irrespective of the actual shape of the letter form (glyph). E.g., 'j' has ASCII value 204 whether it is displayed in the initial, medial or final form, and Word will look at the character that occupies slot nr. 204 in the Arabic font (the isolate form of the character) when it calculates how wide the line in question is, and how to justify it. Since the isolate 'j' is broader than the initial or medial forms, this leads Word to think that the line is longer in numbers of pixels than it is really is, and the line with Arabic in it will most often appear shorter than the one above or below. In left-aligned text, this is of course irrelevant, as lines are of unequal length anyway.

    You will normally find that you can type Arabic OK in Word 5, but you cannot edit the text: the selection and indication (blacking out) of a text does not relate to its actual location, but to where it "would have been" if the Arabic text had run left-to-right, and all glyphs had had the width of the isolate forms (the ASCII value). Also, putting the cursor in a word element will often lead it to break up into invidual characters; the same will often happen if the text runs from one line to another. Again, these are clearly processes that Word generates internally: Generally, when Word (or another program) uses the Mac System's TextEdit resources, Arabic will work OK; whenever the programmers have written procedures specifically for that program, Arabic will not work. This is why the smallest text editors most often work best with Arabic, as they rely directly on the System resources.

    Word 98 has the same basic level of (lack of) support. It does not suffer from the same justification issue, and selecting now "hits" correctly. On the other hand, while it will allow each word to be typed right to left, it will not allow a sentence, or any string of words, to come right to left. Each individual word appears to the right of the previous one, like in English. In other words, it does not recognize the "Arabic space character". You can force it to do so but using Option-space, but this leaves far too wide a space between the words. So, you must type the words in backwards, the last first and the first last. Not very useful.

    Desktop publishing

  • There are also at least three DTP programs for Arabic: the most established is al-Nashir from Diwan software, which has appeared under different names and several versions, but all apparently based on the same basic original programme (for English) called "ReadySetGo" (it was for a while also called "DesignStudio"). It is now sold in three versions: ReadySetGo Global, al-Nashir al-Sahafi and top-level al-Nashir al-Sahafi al-Dibaj. The first of the three opens up to all language scripts, the latter two appear to be Arabic-oriented. The program(s) was earlier called "al-Nashir al-maktabi" (that name survives in the Windows version), and was the basic DTP program used by many newspapers, and by some Arabic users also as word processor. The programs cost from $650 to $850. Several of the largest international Arabic newspapers are produced on the Mac with al-Nashir (thus, to my knoweldge, al-Sharq al-awsat, and al-Hayat).

  • PageMaker and its larger sibling Indesign both have Arabic ("ME") versions, adapted by the same company that produces WinText. They are marketed at about $1,100-1,200 for new buyers, but there are various offers available. I have not used either, but reviews of PageMaker report that in addition to the standard features of the Mac Arabic system, it allows precise vertical and horizontal placing of vowels, and it will allow different characters in a word to have different styles (e.g. a change of fonts) without breaking them up into two words, as the standard system will. It will also allow ligatures (special letter combinations on/off) to be set at a character level, rather than as global preference for everything as other programs do. The review also underlines the program's superior support of Postscript output (i.e. allowing you to use Arabic codes from PageMaker in other programs that do not themselves support Arabic). Both PageMaker and InDeisgn ME can also import WinText files, the only other application (to my knowledge) that can handle this, now fairly obsolete, format.
    Exceptionally, as far as I can see, PageMaker ME has also been translated into a Persian PageMaker; that is the only specifically Persian application program that I know of.

  • Quark XPress does not have a specific Arabic version, and does not support the Arabic system. There are two or three Xtensions that work around this by implementing Arabic through the English system, using their own fonts and internal resources. This makes them incompatible with standard Mac Arabic and other fonts, but they (at least Arabic XT) allow you to import and export Arabic text-only files from other word processors; presumably through a conversion of the text. The most common of these appear to be the Arabic XT Xtension, which sells for about $700. You can use their fonts, or separate specific fonts made for their set-up, but they are incompatible with Mac Arabic fonts. They say you can also combine Arabic and English text on the same page and line using this system. What appears to be a special version for this, selling at the same price, is Safahat XT. Both of these are sold by AraMedia, a mostly PC-based company.
    (Another Xtension, again based on the English, not Arabic system resources, is called "QXT", which uses a different set of fonts again ("PH Nadeem" or "QXA Geeza" etc.); these are in fact mirror-images of Arabic, which you type in from left to right. When finished, the program re-mirrors the whole page. Thus, you also need to use mirror-image English fonts (provided) if you want to have some English on the same page!.)

  • The same distributor also sells a utility called Kalimat which is supposed to allow you to write Arabic for graphics or other applications that does not handle Arabic on its own (much like the ancient Kaatib application did). It also works under the English, not Arabic system resources, and apparently uses the same principles and fonts as the Arabic XT xtension, discussed above.

  • There exists or have existed two other, more rare DTP programs: Imprint (Ivy Systems, $650), originally a program for Indian scripts, and AllPage mentioned above. I do not know much more about them than that they existed in the mid-1990s.

  • Arabic fonts in addition to those of Apple can be had from: and probably other places, but these are the ones I know about. All these can be bundled with their respective DTP programs for reduced prices, otherwise a font package will set you back $100-200. Notice that fonts made for the Arabic XT/Kalimat system will not work in regular Arabic programs.

    Other types of programs

    Other "standard" English programs aren't necessarily as bad as word processors. For databases, FileMaker used to work half-way; but the recent standard versions don't work at all - the more recent, the less useful. There is however a separate Arabic version of FileMaker, but only of the fairly early version FM Pro 1.0 (not 2.1, as I earlier reported) at $245 (FM Pro 1 will mostly work under OS 9, but with some Y2K problems and danger of other bugs; it is not officially supported on the most modern Macs). The Arabic part of it works, however it is copy protected: you must install it on a hard disk, and you only get three tries. I am myself not altogether happy about this form of protection, but at least we do have an option that is reasonably easy to use and works.

    Otherwise, for databases, Arabic will work with 4th Dimension, for a separate review of this, click here. WinFile, a smaller flat-file database made by the same company as WinText, appeears to have disappeared some years ago.

    HyperCard works well with Arabic. There were certain versions (around 2.0 I think) that had some problems with the display of Arabic, but with recent versions that is cleared up, and from vs. 2.3, the standard English HyperCard will allow text processing of Arabic without problems, and will sort Arabic text according to the Arabic alphabet (you may have to use either the "sort" or "sort international" commandd, depending on your precise system setup). Recommended.

    Excel will work with Arabic. It would be a lie to say it works well, but you can type Arabic text into cells and have them display correctly, although you are typing "blindly". It will not sort correctly under English dominance, but probably will do so under Arabic dominance (tested in Excel 4).

    Some graphics programs will also do so, with various limits. FreeHand 3, e.g. (the newest I have) allows you easily to type and edit Arabic text, but may have some trouble with proper alignment - this may be indicative of the level of support you will find in various programs. My old SuperPaint (3), however, handles Arabic without problem - on the machines that it can run on. In general, the rule applies that the stronger the program, the less compatible it is likely to be with Arabic. For graphic programs that do not handle Arabic by themselves, notice the Kalimat utility mentioned above that intends to add Arabic capability to these (using their own fonts). I have not tested this, but it may be of use for those in need.

    There is a separate Arabic version of Adobe Photoshop 6, as well as an Adobe Acrobat ME, from the same company that sells Adobe PageMaker ME (above).

    You do not need the Middle East version of Acrobat in order to produce Acrobat files containing Arabic. Regular English Acrobat will do so, however you must use the "Distiller" process, not the simpler "PDF Writer" in the same package. Using this produces Arabic pdf files that can, like any Acrobat file, be viewed on any computer, Mac or Windows, without any Arabic installed on that computer (I believe the user must have Acrobat Reader version 3.0 or higher, however). The caveat is that Arabic pdf pages produced with English Acrobat cannot be searched or have the text copied out of like English pdf files; for these extras to work, the file must have been made in the more expensive Acrobat ME version.

    Arabic on the Internet

    The Internet presents problems of its own, which are discussed separately in two pages, one "theoretical" on Non-English computing on the net in general, and one specifically for the Mac, with more practical info on how to set up your network programs to handle Arabic insofar as that works.

    History lesson: Al-Kaatib

    The Arabic system on the Mac dates from 1987. Before this, there was an idiosyncratic program called al-Kaatib that did Arabic, but in its own manner which was incompatible with everything else. It died out soon after 1987, but some people are still using it. Because of its incompatibility with today's system, this may cause problems, solutions to which may exist: Click here for a separate note on transferring Kaatib documents to the Mac system.
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